Wednesday, 7 November 2012


"the act of combining parts or elements to form a whole."

Composition is one of those words. At its fundamental levels it is very easy to understand but if somebody was to ask you on the spot, 'what is composition', try to come up with a good answer. I think because the word encompasses so many things it is very hard to explain in just a few breaths, because absolutely everything and anything in the universe has a composition, is composed of 'things'. Air is composed of 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen and 1% 'other stuff', the composition of a cake is the ingredients you used in order to bake it, it is the elements that are used to put something together. 

In art, composition is the the arrangement of the visual elements or 'ingredients' in a piece of art work or even a photograph, and the visual elements are the principles of visual art, basically the tools or rules/ guidelines that an artist will use in order to arrange/ organize the visual elements or 'compose' the visual elements in order to create a piece of art work. Composition is the main aspect of putting things together in the right way, and when things are 'composed' or assembled the right way it means that, that thing can work properly. In art, a successful composition means that, that piece of art work will be aesthetically pleasing, interesting or to put it simply, nice to look at.

Like I've said, the visual elements are the ingredients needed to 'compose' any piece of artwork. Understanding the elements 'ingredients' of a cake might be easy, maybe not for some but you get my point, so what are the ingredients for art, the visual elements. There are many, some might not be considered by certain artists to be visual elements but there are a certain few which no doubt all artists would agree on to being fundamental in the composition of artwork. so lets take a look at them; 

Line; theoretically there are no literal lines in nature, everything we see is a product of light but an artist will use line-like shapes to create distinct borders between objects in a scene to define colour, contrast etc. It is one of the tools an artist will use to create the illusion of a 3D object on a 2 dimensional surface. 

Shape and proportion; a geometrical description of an object in a space.

Colour; Colour is characterized by attributes such as hue, saturation and brightness. Many artists agree that pure white and pure black should not be used as they do not exist in reality (i wont get into this argument right now). Colour may also be used symbolically in order to describe, good, bad, peace or innocence.

Texture; is the perception of the surface quality of an object in a space.

Form; similar to shape, it is the visual appearance of configuration of an object in a space.

Value; closely linked with colour and has a strong relationship with light as light will dictate the value of an object, its lightness or its tone.

Space; is the 3 dimensional extent in which objects have relative position and direction. In artwork this can be used to create the illusion of distance and direction.

Understanding the visual elements can be somewhat easy to understand but unbelievably hard to apply to a piece of artwork. Again in comparison to baking a cake, we have the ingredients, 'visual elements' but now we need to know how to put them together to bake the cake. In this case we understand what line and colour and form etc are but we now need the 'recipe' to put them together into a composition-ally successful piece of art work. In art, the recipe for the composition of a piece of art work, ie  the organisation of these visual elements) is called the principles or organisation. One reason why art can be so expressive and unique is because there is no one way to organise the elements, fundamentally it is the artists choice to determine what the centre of interest, the focus of a piece of art work will be and the artist can then use the ingredients, the visual elements to compose the piece of art work. 

Because there are any number of ways in order to organise the visual elements, and may I add that not all of the visual elements need to be used in every piece of art work, there is still one extra thing needed in order to ensure that a piece of artwork is composition-ally correct and therefore pleasing to look at. Basically the thing that brings together the visual elements so that the piece of artwork works. These are referred as simply 'compositional techniques'. A compositional technique is the final arrangement of the visual elements in order to create an aesthetically pleasing piece of art work.

There are a number of techniques again which can be used by an artist to arrange the visual elements within their art work. Whilst fundamentally the techniques are used as mentioned to create an aesthetically pleasing piece of art work they are also used, and equally as important, to create an interesting piece of art work for the viewer to look at so they can be used to define mood and invoke a reaction.

Compositional techniques include;

The Rule of Thirds; "The method involves dividing the frame into thirds, vertically and horizontally (so it actually becomes ninths), and then using those lines to effectively bisect your image, using the lines to section off areas of the image and using the nodes at which the lines cross as key areas for points of interest. This rule, although very simple, works extremely well when used effectively, for example, within a landscape shot, the horizon could cross the frame along the lower horizontal line, with the top of a mountain range crossing the upper horizontal line. Similarly, with a portrait shot, the eyes could be placed at the points at which the upper horizontal line bisects the two vertical lines."

Considering all of this lets take some examples of art work, including my own and see whether they work composition-ally.

Above is my latest piece of work, a digital painting of Bradgate Park in Leicester. As you can see I have applied the rule of thirds here to some extent by choosing to place the focal point of the painting, ie the people standing on the top of the hill at one of the points at which the horizontal and vertical lines intersect which draws the views attention to this point creating interest within the painting. Other techniques which have been applied here in order to create this 'focus'
including the varied tone in colour, darker areas around the people on the hill and a lighter area where they are stood again draw the viewers eye to that point.

Compare this to last years Bradgate Park final above and I would say that this piece of art work fails in its composition. As you can see there is no definitive focal point. For the viewer this piece of artwork is not comfortable to look at therefore it would not hold the viewers attention ultimately failing as a piece of art.
 in my own opinion. Can you tell I never liked this piece?